Chains of Evidence

How did Dallas convict so many innocents? With faulty eyewitnesses, sloppy police work and overzealous prosecutors.

So does Keith Edward Turner, who went to prison in 1983 at age 22 for rape after the victim swore she would never forget his face.

Ten years after he was paroled, in 1999, Turner was told he'd have to wear a monitor, register as a sex offender and put a sign in his yard.

A sign, a label of "monster," even though he was innocent.

Veteran defense attorney Michael Ware is working with Texas Wesleyan School of Law students to review requests for DNA tests from 400 people convicted in Dallas County.
Mark Graham
Veteran defense attorney Michael Ware is working with Texas Wesleyan School of Law students to review requests for DNA tests from 400 people convicted in Dallas County.

After seeing a story on post-conviction DNA exonerations on Court TV, Turner began writing letters. The Innocence Project said his case was too old. Finally, in 2005, Turner marched into the courtroom of the judge who had sentenced him.

"I told him that they were listing me as a sex offender and a rapist and I wasn't guilty," Turner says. "The judge told me I needed to get an attorney."

Turner said he had four kids and no money to hire a lawyer, so the judge appointed an attorney and an investigator.

After Turner passed a polygraph, which cost him $250, prosecutors agreed to the DNA test. Then the amazing news: "They had kept the evidence in the same spot for 21 years," Turner says. "That was just the Lord. When he got ready to do it, he preserved it for everything to be possible."

The Lord or Henry Wade.

Turner got the news of his exoneration on December 23, 2005. Turner's mother had died six months after he went to the penitentiary. After he got the report that the DNA didn't match, he took it to her grave. "I told her she didn't need to worry about me," Turner says.

Judge Manny Alvarez tried to right the wrongful conviction of a woman for child abuse in a trial that happened in his own court. It cost him his job.

In March 2006, Alvarez had gone to the courthouse and talked to Greg Wallis—the exoneree he had prosecuted—and apologized. Wallis told him he had no hard feelings, he understood Alvarez had a job to do.

Now a defense attorney, Alvarez says lawyers today have more tools to ensure the right suspect is charged, but not every case can be solved with DNA.

When he presided over the 2005 child abuse trial of Maria Hurtado, 26, in a "shaken baby" case, Alvarez says, he kept expecting her attorney John Read to present a defense, to answer obvious questions, to rebut the prosecution's evidence.

"He did no cross-examination," Alvarez says. "There were no witnesses called. There were CPS records that favored her. Read is a good lawyer, but in this trial he wasn't worth a damn."

At the end of the two-day trial, Alvarez had serious doubts about Hurtado's guilt. But the jury convicted her and sentenced her to eight years in prison. So Alvarez began looking into the case himself.

"The evidence showed the baby had acute over-hemorrhaging," Alvarez says, "meaning there was new blood over old blood," indicating long-term problems. The baby had had seizures and convulsions in her first two months. "What was so convincing to me, if she had been shaken, there would have been bruising or broken ribs. There was nothing along those lines."

Alvarez was accused of overstepping his bounds as a judge for investigating and releasing Hurtado on her own recognizance. He lost his race for re-election. But Hurtado got a new trial. "They worked the case and presented it as it should have been, and she was acquitted," Alvarez says. "Do I say something and take the heat? There was no better feeling than when that jury came back with a 'not guilty' verdict."

Maybe more prosecutors should be willing to fade the heat, he says. When the fake drugs were resulting in convictions, someone should have screamed, Wait a minute!

"I was part of the system. Every time I go to a conference, that's the first thing out of their mouths," Alvarez says. "When all this stuff was happening, nobody said, 'Hey, this is bullshit.' As a prosecutor, your job is to seek justice, not convict people. It starts from the top and works its way down."

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